Yesterday I was nearly foiled by China in my attempt to get from Shanghai to Beijing. Yes, in a matter of just 30 minutes I had an extended "China moment" that involved subway trains, buses, automobiles, planes, and one fiery old lady.
It started at 8:45am when I left for the airport. A 5-minute walk brought me to the subway station which is on the same line as the airport. "How easy is that," I asked myself rhetorically. Not so easy, actually. The next train was in 18 minutes. Fair enough on a holiday week. I waited with big backpack, daypack, and computer bag in tow thinking about how funny my legs look in floppy linen shorts and massive trekking boots. The train arrived and I stepped on to find that this particular car was traveling to a different end station and not going via the airport.
I quickly darted off to discover that the next train, which was going to the airport, wasn't coming for another 18 minutes! That wasn't good because I had to check in at least 45 minutes before my flight; the deadline for which was in 32 minutes. Quick math ("18 minutes until the train then 25 on the train then 7 walking...") confirmed my worst nightmare (missing a flight, which I have never done thanks to my usually arriving 2-3 DAYS before departure). If I stayed here I was a goner.
Hoisting my massive backpack on my back, daypack on my front, and computer bag over my shoulder I waddled back up the escalator, through the exit, and out to the street where, miraculously, there was a bus stopped that read "Hongquiao Airport" on the front! I hopped right on, the driver confirmed my good fortune, and we took off! "All is well," I thought.
Two blocks later all was not well. Either the bus had run out of gas or it was attempting to charge up to reach light speed because we were stoppin' then zoomin' like nobody's business. The driver pulled the now dying vehicle over, opened the door, got off, and just started walking down the street shaking his pristine white gloves in the air. We all looked at each other in dismay It only took 30 seconds to realize what was coming next: a battle royale to get the first taxi to the airport.
I once again sherpa-ed up, bags hanging on every limb. A pint-size elderly Chinese woman shoved me to one side to make a run for it. In my current top-heavy state I was an easy target and tipped right over. As I lay there in a pile of overpriced lifetime warranty nylon and canvas bags, zippers flying every which way, I had a realization: this isn't Kansas anymore. This is China. GAME. ON.
The adrenaline began to pump through my veins. I used this newfound superhuman strength to pull myself up, swat a few small children to the side, and find that women to claim my revenge. As I exited the bus I could see her in the distance. Her greying bouffant was a near perfect circle and didn't move even a smidgen as she waved her hands in the air while simultaneously checking over her shoulder for cab-hailing competition. My waddle became a gallop as our eyes locked and I began to wave my arms in the air at an equally frantic rate.
As an aqua cab rounded the bend, it's "available" light shining brightly, I knew this was my moment. I could give it up to her in the spirit of American kindness and perhaps miss my flight or I could crush her, claim victory, and get to the airport on time. As they say, when in Rome...
My gallop became an all-out run-waddle-hop-skip-jump and I waved my arms madly. Bouffant made a hard left and quickly turned her power strides into a "poor old lady shuffle." She was clearly playing the sympathy card to the driver. I wasn't fooled and the driver clearly didn't care. As I swung the back door open and launched my bags inside she headed for the front window, a "poor me" look slapped on her face in an attempt to steal my cab. Mind you, this is the woman who, 2 minutes earlier, had knocked over a grown man carrying no less than 100 pounds of luggage.
One leg hanging out the door I yelled at the driver to go and we zoomed away, leaving evil granny in the dust. I turned back to find that her face had turned into a smile and she was giving me a thumbs up. No matter how heated, Chinese people still have the innate ability to reward an all-out adoption of their ways. I could tell she was quite proud.
Sadly, karma is a pain and five minutes later we were in bumper to bumper traffic behind another bus that had broken down. Rather than pull to the side of the road the driver instead decided to park across all four lanes of traffic in an apparent attempt to ruin everyone's day. The clock was ticking and I was getting restless, begging the driver to do something - ANYTHING. Naturally, as we're in China, he did. The man pulled right up on the sidewalk, passed the bus, plopped us back down on the road, and we sped away, both wearing a very satisfied grin.
I got to the check-in desk exactly 47 minutes prior to departure, cut the line all the way to the front (as you do in China), shoved my passport across the desk, whipped my bag onto the belt, and nabbed the last window seat. Kyle - 1, China - 0. On board I was greeted by an adorable 8-year-old who was so intrigued with my iPad he decided he'd rather sit on my lap and play angry birds than enjoy his very own seat. As we landed in Beijing and his dad told him to give it back to me, he looked at me with the saddest face I have ever seen and spent the next several minutes attempting to sucker me into giving it to him. I tell you what, it almost worked. If you could have seen that face!
Now I'm safe and sound in Beijing and very proud to have one what can only be described as one of the greatest battles to claim victory over a China moment in recorded history. As for that old lady, I ran into her in the terminal 20 minutes later. She waved kindly and gave me another thumbs up. It clearly hadn't occurred to either of us to just share the cab. What's the fun in that?